Minnesota college's introductory journalism course aims to help spread the news in many languages

A non-credit course at Ridgewater College will teach the fundamentals of journalism, communication, public speaking and multimedia to a small group of bilingual community members. The goal is those participants will be able to take those skills and use them to keep their communities better informed on what is happening in Willmar.

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A five-day curriculum will teach bilingual members of the local community about journalism and how they can use those skills to help keep their neighbors informed.
Anne Polta / West Central Tribune file photo
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WILLMAR — News reporting and news distribution have been changing rapidly over the last few decades thanks to the internet and differences in how the public decides to find and consume that news. The diversification of the population has also brought challenges, including how to make sure non-English speaking or reading residents are not only informed of what is happening in the community but also understand the why behind how decisions are made.

In an effort to improve information sharing throughout Willmar's diverse community, the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission and Ridgewater College, along with assistance from the Willmar Area Community Foundation and the University of Minnesota Extension, are offering a course to teach introductory journalism skills to bilingual individuals.

"It is about keeping people safe," said Dayna Latham, training and outreach manager for Ridgewater's Customized Training and Continuing Education department. "The idea would be these individuals could be that contact person. If something comes, we can connect with them and they can get that information out to their community."

The idea for the program came from a conversation between Michelle Marotzke, economic development professional with the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission, and Sara Carlson, executive director of the community foundation.

"She heard there was a need, that people weren't really getting messages that they need, people that don't speak English as their first language," Marotzke said.


With an idea germinating, Marotzke went to Latham, and the two began brainstorming which quickly turned into the multilingual journalism program. The two put a proposal together for Ridgewater in two weeks and received a $20,000 grant from the community foundation. The program was also awarded a grant through the University of Minnesota Extension Rural Sustainability program. The university is providing a graduate research assistance to evaluate the program and some funds for things such as speaker fees.

Michelle Marotzke and  Dayna Latham.JPG
Michelle Marotzke, left, of the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission, and Dayna Latham, of Ridgewater College, created an introductory journalism program for multilingual community members.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

The graduate assistant, Dalila Hussein, will be evaluating the Ridgewater program, to see if the class can be replicated in other communities and if it served the stated goal.

"We have a lot of eyes looking at this program," Latham said. "If we are going to do something like this, we really need to prove it is hitting its target, that we can replicate it."

The curriculum will cover principles of journalism, public speaking and introduction to multimedia production, which it is hoped will help participants create visual journalism — for example, videos in different languages such as Somali, Spanish and Karen. The class will also be bringing in speakers from organizations such as the West Central Tribune, Pioneer Public Television, Ridgewater and Extension. The instructor for the course is Larry Mixon.

The journalism skills the students will learn will assist them in interviewing sources, asking questions and being able to share the information in a way their audience is able to understand and use. It can also help get more people involved in the city, by spreading the word about what is going on.

"These folks are here and we really want them to really be involved in their communities and finding a way for them to feel comfortable being involved," Latham said. "This can help bridge that gap."

In addition to helping their communities, the program could also provide participants with life and work skills that they could bring to jobs.

"Maybe this jump-starts a few of our individuals in a new business, or go to college for journalism," Latham said.


For the first class, Marotzke said they're looking for five to 10 people. They have to be over the age of 18 and be bilingual. Three individuals have already signed up for the course, which starts March 4 and runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Friday through April 8.

Anyone interested in signing up for the free class can contact Marotzke at 320-287-1737 .

"The ultimate goal is the people who participate in this will be able to go back to their communities and give back," Marotzke said. "By providing this news and information in a video format, where it is oral and they can translate it in a way that people will understand."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email or direct 320-214-4373.

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